Los Angeles, CA – November 28, 2023
As eviction rates soar in Los Angeles due to the gradual removal of pandemic-era tenant protections, a growing number of tenants are finding themselves in court without legal representation. In response to this urgent need, a new initiative is underway to enlist lawyers from some of the city’s premier law firms to assist.
Launched in October by the Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles, a non-profit supporting homelessness prevention priorities outlined by Mayor Karen Bass, the initiative has successfully recruited approximately 200 lawyers. The Mayor’s Fund CEO, Conway Collis, emphasized that addressing the city’s homelessness crisis involves not only sheltering unhoused individuals but also preventing people from losing their housing in the first place.
“We need to prevent the human tragedy of people becoming homeless and being evicted if the ongoing effort to move people off the streets and end homelessness is going to be successful,” Collis stated.
In contrast to criminal court, where defendants receive public defenders if unable to afford legal representation, tenants facing eviction lack the right to free legal aid. UCLA researchers reveal that, as a result, most tenants have to navigate eviction proceedings alone, often against landlords backed by legal counsel 95% of the time.
Eviction court outcomes can be devastating for low-income tenants with limited housing alternatives, prompting housing researchers to label eviction court as the frontline of homelessness. City leaders are increasingly recognizing the significance of this legal arena in addressing the escalating crisis of homelessness in the region.
Despite Mayor Bass’s commitment to housing 17,000 people during her first year in office, more than 66,000 eviction notices have been issued to Los Angeles tenants, according to data collected by the city’s housing department. In late October, Mayor Bass called on lawyers citywide to volunteer for pro bono eviction defense work, stressing the need for collective efforts to prevent Angelenos from falling into homelessness.
The Mayor’s Fund has allocated $1.1 million annually for the next four years to hire staff at top legal aid law firms in Los Angeles. These staff members will coordinate the efforts of attorneys who have volunteered to work pro bono. The initiative, which aims to recruit 300 attorneys, has reached about two-thirds of its goal, with most attorneys undergoing training from local legal aid organizations.
David Lash, managing counsel for “pro bono and public interest services” at “O’Melveny & Myers,” emphasized the importance of specialized training for attorneys involved in eviction cases. Drawing on his experience in a UCLA Law School study, Lash highlighted the significant impact a lawyer can have in eviction court, where tenants without representation often face unfavorable outcomes.
While recruitment efforts continue, the initiative acknowledges that, even if successful, approximately 80% of Angelenos facing eviction will still lack legal representation. Collis emphasized the ongoing need for concerted action to address the broader challenges associated with housing insecurity in Los Angeles.